I like to have opinions of about things. But I don’t always know where to put them. And sometimes I forget them. So, here we go.

Fauda

Ugggh, I can’t get away from my Israel/jewish theme. It was being promoted by Netflix, and I have a hard time resisting. Anyway, 3 seasons later, I’m mad at myself. Because as a tv series, it’s not bad. Not great, but not terrible. But as politics and propaganda, it’s absolute garbage.

The first season is probably the best and most sensitively scripted and plotted. They’re all about a crack Israeli counter-terrorism team that goes in, sometimes undercover to break up terrorist groups and assassinate their leaders (mainly Hamas, but ISIS in season 2). The show pretends to portray the Palestinians in some kind of sensitivity and, in fairness, the characters do come across as human and with understandable motivations. But their character history, cultural and historical context never merit more than a sketch. And the character development keeps getting cut off when the real heroes — the Israelis come shoot them.

If you’re Israeli, this probably looks very even handed. Recognize the humanity in your enemy, but also the good guys always win. But it’s nauseating for anyone else. The Israelis so overmatch the Palestinian terrorists in technology and firepower and intelligence that it’s ridiculous. And that seems accurate. Reading between the lines a bit, it’s not hard to see why the Palestinians might be pissed being as they are — as accurately portrayed — in multi-generational refugee camps, constantly under surveillance and often harassed by Israelis and by Palestinian authorities acting on Israeli behalf.And all the murders and land grabs and other slights. Not much of that is referenced. Instead, we have half-crazed terrorists bent on killing (and sometimes kidnapping) Israelis in the most grandiose displays.

The Israeli protagonists speak Arabic and are meant to have full characters. there are women commandos who inevitably are seduced by the men. Occasionally, one of them gets killed in order to justify the revengeful bloodlust. And the body counts go high. They occasional killing of Israelis, especially the counter-terrorism commandos (about 1 dies per season) also are meant to justify actual torture and murder — which happens throughout. Also constant extortion and bullying of prisoners and detainees. None of this seems to raise an ethical eyebrow as it’s never mentioned or regretted by the Israelis.

There has been Palestinian terrorism, of course. But the terrorism of Fauda is mostly fiction as that motive has largely run dry in the recent history. The bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, etc don’t reflect any current reality. I hope the Israeli assassinations, torture, home destruction are also fiction, but I know they’re not.

All in all, pretty watchable if you can ignore the horror of it’s politics and the propagandizing that it represents. There are interesting bits, insights into both Israeli and Palestinian culture and politics. I can’t recommend it. And yet… I watched it.

Unorthodox

I’ve been on a bit of a Israel/Judaism jag lately. Saw Shtisel and One of Us. I liked Shtisel for all the little things and cared about the characters who seemed real.

Unorthodox doesn’t feel as real, but has some interesting parallels. All of them are about Hasidic Jews wrestling with, and in some way escaping from their community and tradition. The reality of the social control and repression that young people experience — especially women — is brought out most acutely in One of Us. It’s helpful so know something about it when seeing the others because the bullying and misogyny are elided in the other stories.

But, anyway, the stories are about escape. Which presents a pretty strong prior perspective, I think. Shtisel demonstrates some sympathy to the Hasidic culture, but still, Shtisel himself is trying to navigate away — or reformulate it.

Anyway — not that I’d want to live in a Hasid community, but the trope of escape being the primary story does become a bit rote. I do feel like there might be a stronger case made for the community in the first place — and hopefully not simply rely on the trauma of the Jews as the sole discipline and explanation for how and why the community sustains itself. There must be something good about it, right? Shtisel is more nuanced — especially in the first half when the escape narrative isn’t as strong and you can see and feel the love and tenderness in the relations, even if they’re complicated.

It’s funny, also, that art is the channel for escape in Unorthodox (music) and Shtisel (painting). As if it’s necessary to substitute one obsessive and irrational motive with another. Why not a desire to go out and party? Or just have a normal life? Or get an secular education, especially for women? At least Unorthodox does a nice job of showing how a friend-group could be a powerful draw and support for a Hasidic woman wrestling with leaving.

Anyway — overall I liked Unorthodox and found it compelling. I liked the slice of Berlin it shows and the likeable characters — even the bad guy, Moishe, is pretty nice, actually. It didn’t quite feel real — felt a bit too scripted and plotted. But Shira Haas, the main character, is remarkable — even better here than in Shtisel.

Westworld, S1E1

Somebody said they like Westworld. So here I go……

About 4 episodes in, and I’m worried that this isn’t good for my mental health. The voilence, manipulations by unseen forces, difficulty in ascertaining reality and one’s own identity. Not good. But I’ll soldier on.

Actually not -somehow the tv wants me to pay $3.99 per episode now and so, I’ll let this one go.

Tiger King

Honestly, wasn’t planning to watch it. But it’s such a big topic of discussion on social media that I figure I would — just so I”m not too late on it. I’m usually very late and don’t come round to seeing things until long after the cultural moment. Anyway, I saw it and can’t imagine I have anything original to say. It’s entertaining, but awful. Deeply embarrassing. It should never have been made. Trash.

Train to Busan

Fun to see a Korean take on the zombie category. And a little slice of Korean life — although not really much of that, except Korean infrastructure. Anyway, fine. Maybe 20 minutes longer than it needed to be and a bit overwrought towards the end — but all horror tends in that direction. I saw it as prep for Parasite.

The Expanse

Saw the new season. It’s kind of cool, but honestly, I couldn’t follow the plot and kept falling asleep. It has some visual effects that are cool, but pulling dead characters from previous seasons left me confused. I hardly remember who they were and what they were about, how and why they died.

Hip Hop Evolution on Netflix

Basically, this is must-see tv for anyone who likes or cares about hip hop. I think for younger people, it’s just interesting history and texture. And of course, there’s a lot of reference and culture in hip hop that is valuable to know. But for someone my age, it’s a wonderful stroll down memory lane. I grew up with hip hop. I was never in the middle of it, and never a huge fan. But I liked it, bought records. Somehow, way out in Southern California, I was exposed to and really liked some of the early hip hop: Sugar Hill Gang, Grandmaster Flash. It was exotic, but we embraced it, alongside other imports from far away, punk rock and new wave. In 1983, we white surburban kids were listening to it and trying our hand at breakdancing. Some hip hop I didn’t like or didn’t understand. And that’s why is so revelatory about this series is that it fills in a lot of holes and gaps that I didn’t know or understand, even if I lived — and listened- through them. I mean, I bought a 2 Live Crew album and listened to it loudly. But I didn’t really know anything about its context in Miami — or the fact that that the MCs were actually from California. I didn’t really remember the 1st amendment battle they fought and won. I can appreciate it all so much more now and with more information.

I never really liked West Coast hip hop much — NWA, Snoop, Ice T. But seeing this made me appreciate it, at least, and understand it. I never really knew much about a lot of the major figures: Tupac, Biggie, Russell Simmons. Same with a lot of Southern hip hop, trap, crunk, etc.

So anyway, I highly recommend this — for anyone who grew up with hip hop. Even if you weren’t a big fan. And for anyone who is a big fan, but doesn’t know the history. It’s pretty interesting.

The Spy on Netflix

I liked Sacha Baron Cohen in his first incarnation as Ali G — the faker chav from Cambridge. That was funny and provocative. Then he went into a couple decades of Borat-y junk. And now he’s come back with The Spy and…. he’s good. I like it. I’m going through a bit of an Israel phase, despite myself. Read Ari Shavit, saw Shtisel. I don’t really want to — am not into Israel and am really mad about it. But still, there’s good stories and heroism. Anyway — The Spy is well done — and apparently pretty accurate. I little heavy on cinematographic tricks. The politics, of course, tend to heroicize Israel and tend to diminish Arabs/Syrians. But the latter isn’t as obnoxious as you might expect in such an iconographic story. But Cohen is a bona fide actor and the writing and stagecraft are very good. I give it 5 of 5.

Orphan Black

I saw it. Why?

Ends///

I'm a human person, working in policy & advocacy in international development, gender rights, economic justice.

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